22 November 2014

How Presidents Have Used Their Veto Power

While we have not expressly discussed the President's veto power in my courses this semester, this power does fit into the general discussion we have had concerning American government, and at least someone in one of my courses was curious enough about this power to ask whether the President can exercise this power for any reason, or only when he feels the bill he is being asked to sign violates the Constitution. I recently came across a short and informative blog post on the National Constitution Center's blog that anyone interested in the President's veto power should read.

14 November 2014

Nevada Gets an Appeals Court

The AP reports that Nevada is joining the 40 other states that have an intermediate level appeals court. To be honest, I'm amazed there are that many states without an appeals court. Anyway, the article points out why not having an intermediate level appeals court can cause problems:
That meant that every appeal from each of the state's 82 district courts - death penalty convictions, medical malpractice judgments, prison food complaints, administrative hearing reviews, driver's license revocations - had to be heard by a very busy seven-member Nevada Supreme Court.
The article goes on to note that last year the Supreme Court rendered about 2,300 rulings!

13 November 2014

Americans Don't Trust Their Courts

At least that is what Francis Barry argues in a recent Bloomberg News piece. Barry argues that the increasing number of amendments to state constitutions show a growing distrust of the judiciary. To understand why, give this short piece a read.

10 November 2014

Time for a change?

A recent Billings Gazette editorial points out the problems with open elections for judges in this era of outside groups spending unlimited money on trying to influence elections. The editorial also points out two other ways that states select judges, which might be more appropriate for Montana. The editorial is short and very informative.

06 November 2014

Judge Retains Seat

From the Associated Press: a day after elections an Illinois Supreme Court Justice appears to have retained his seat. This is a wonderful opportunity to review how some judges in the United States are selected. Here is what the AP had to say:
ST. LOUIS — An Illinois Supreme Court justice targeted for ouster by plaintiffs' attorneys who spent more than $1 million publicly characterizing him as partial to corporate interests appears to have retained his seat, which he won a decade ago in a race that set national spending records.
With more than 99 percent of Tuesday's votes counted, Lloyd Karmeier finished less than 1 percentage point above the 60 percent threshold he needed for retention. Several of the 37 southernmost Illinois counties making up Karmeier's district still were counting absentee and provisional ballots Wednesday.
Just from these two paragraphs we can tell a few things about how Supreme Court Justices are keep their seats in Illinois. While we cannot tell how they are actually selected (whether the governor does the selecting or some kind of committee), we can tell that each Justice must face a retention vote, and in order to survive the vote the judge must obtain a super majority of 60% of the vote. We can also tell that Justices on the Illinois Supreme Court apparently represent only a part of the state. This likely is meant to ensure that the Court is made up of Justices from throughout the entire state.

To review: some judges must face retention votes when their term expires. A retention vote is nothing more than having the name of the judge on the ballot with a "Yes" or "No" answer to the question of whether the judge should be retained. In Illinois a judge must get 60% yes votes in order to keep his or her seat. Remember, not all retention votes run this way. Each state can have their own system.

05 November 2014

Studying Law is Easy . . .

At least that is what Bundesgerichtshof Judge Thomas Fischer recently told Die Zeit. Fischer makes numerous observations about the shortcomings of the German legal education (whether they are fair or not, I will not judge) and more importantly, he draws a comparison to the study of law in common law countries:
ZEIT Campus: Was fehlt den Absolventen?
Fischer: Meistens die Softskills, also die sozialpsychologischen Fähigkeiten. Die werden fast nicht gelehrt: Verhandlungskompetenz erwirbt man im Studium nicht, den meisten mangelt es auch an kommunikativer Sorgfalt.
ZEIT Campus: Warum wäre das wichtig?
Fischer: Jura ist eine Wissenschaft, die sich fast ausschließlich mit Sprache beschäftigt. Sie müssen im Beruf Reden halten, Positionen verteidigen, Konfliktsituationen lösen und vor allem Empathie für fremde Personen haben.
ZEIT Campus: Kann man das an der Uni lernen?
Fischer: Im angloamerikanischen Raum fordern Professoren die Studenten ständig auf, ihre Meinung zu sagen und sich mit Gegenpositionen auseinanderzusetzen. Sie sind von Anfang an in einem System, das sie in die Lage versetzt, juristische Berufe auszuüben.
The rest of the interview is well worth a read. His views on the Repetitorien (he refers to it as a "sinnloser Aufwand") and why making big money working for a large law firm might not be worth it are amusing. The comments made by readers are rather amusing as well.

30 October 2014

Politicians as Supreme Court Justices

There once was a time where tried and test politicians were appointed to the highest court in America. Perhaps the most famous of these is former Chief Justice Earl Warren, who was Governor of California before being appointed to the high court, and one former President sat on the Court AFTER serving as President! The National Constitutional Center recently posted an article tracing the history of appointing politicians to the high court in the context of whether President Obama might one day be interesting in serving there.

27 October 2014

Judicial Elections, Jury Nullification?

The headline of a recent Great Fall Tribune article reads "Supreme Court Candidate supports jury nullification." Within the next few weeks students in all of my courses should understand what the article means by "court candidate" (yes, some judges in America are elected by popular vote!) and "jury nullification." For a sneak peak, take a look at the article.

25 October 2014

Does Supreme Court Silence Mean Something

The National Constitutional Center recently posted an article focusing on what the Supreme Court means to say when it rejects hearing a case on appeal. The Center's Lyle Denniston explains:
At the beginning of each term, in early October, the court turns down hundreds of cases that have built up on its docket over its summer recess. If it had to explain each refusal, the task would be simply unmanageable. But it is frustrating, to the public as a whole and to lawyers, lower court judges and journalists, when the court does not say why it denies review of a really big case, or cases.
That happened, on opening day this term, when the Justices turned aside seven appeals dealing with the issue of same-sex marriage. In each of those seven, coming from five different states, a federal appeals court had ruled unconstitutional a state’s ban on such marriages – and each appeals court had done so with a full opinion, going over all of the reasons.
The rest of the explanation can be found here.

22 October 2014

Five Key UK Supreme Court Cases

Lord Neuberger talks about the five most important cases decided by the relatively new UK Supreme Court in the past five years. The article is worth a quick read.